Robert Palmer Biography
Last updated: 08/19/2014 11:11:35 AM
BORN: January 19, 1949, Batley, England
Robert Palmer died in Paris, of a heart attack, at 54 years old. He died 26Th September 2003.
The Early Years - 1949 to 1967
Robert was born Robert Allen Palmer on 19 January 1949 in Batley, Yorkshire, England.
When Robert was 18 months old his parents emigrated to Malta because his father, Les, was posted there with the Navy. From an early age Robert was exposed to singers such as Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Lena Horne on American forces radio which was a major form of entertainment for the expatriate community.
Robert returned to England when he was aged 10 when his parents moved to Scarborough, Yorkshire and learnt to read music whilst he was a teenager.
The Mandrakes - 1967 to 1969
Robert went to art school at Scarborough Technical College. His first band was The Mandrakes which formed in 1965. This band had nothing to do with The Mandrake Paddle Steamer contrary to previous press reports. The Mandrakes supported many renowned acts during this period at local venues and appeared from a live festival appearance on the television programme "Six Five" The history of bands in the North/North east during this period has been reserached for a book which includes a detailed piece on The Mandrakes. No publishing date has yet been set.
The Alan Bown! - 1969 to 1970
In 1969 Robert moved to London and joined The Alan Bown Set, replacing Jess Roden on vocals (Jess later appeared on backing vocals, toegther with Rupert Hine on keyboards, with Robert on his appearance on The Tube in 1983.) The Alan Bown Set were subsequently billed The Alan Bown!
In 1969 The Alan Bown! featured Alan Bown on electric blue trumpet, Vic sweeney (drums), Tony Catchpole (guitar), John Anthony (clarinet, recorder and Tenor and alto sax), Jeff Bannister (piano and organ) Stan Haldane (bass), and of course Robert Palmer on vocals.
The 1969 album was later reissued as both Kick Me out on See For Miles records and as The Early Years on C5 Records. Robert sang lead vocals on every track except "All I Can Do"
In 1970, The Alan Bown released the album Listen on Island records. This album featured Robert on lead vocal on all tracks and he co-wrote "Get Myself Straight", the albums closing track.
During the recording of Listen Robert left The Alan Bown, to join Dada. The Alan Bown! subsequently recorded Stretching Out in May 1971 with Gordon Neville on vocals, but the band folded soon afterwards. John Helliwell went on to join Supertramp and Alan Bown played for 2 years in the band Jonesy.
Dada and Vinegar Joe - 1970 to 1974
Robert sang, but did not record with Dada, who also featured Elkie Brooks on vocals. Dada metamorphosed into Vinegar Joe who recorded 3 albums for Island records:
Vinegar Joe (also known as Rusty Red Armour, the album's opening track)
Rock'n Roll Gypsies
Six Star General
Robert's writing increased apace and he had sole or shared writing credits on 8 of the tracks across the 3 Vinegar Joe albums, including the single "Never Met A Dog" The album Six Star General included a cover of an Andy Fraser (Free and ex John Mayall's Bluesbreakers bass player) song "Talkin' Bout My Baby". This marked an early admiration by Robert for Andy Fraser which later became apparent in his faithful and warm cover of Andy's "Every Kinda People", one of Robert's biggest early commercial successes.
The line up of Vinegar Joe was Elkie Brooks (vocals and percussion), Robert Palmer (vocals and rhythm guitar), Pete Gage (guitars and effects), Steve York (bass guitar), Tim Hinkley (piano and organ), Rob Tait (drums and percussion)
Vinegar Joe toured heavily and made TV appearances on "The Old Grey Whistle Test", "Music Unlimited ("Ride Me Easy Rider)" and Best Of The Beat Club ("Proud To Be (A Honky Woman))" but the albums failed to achieve any significant sales figures and the band split up in March 1974. The idea was mooted at the time of Robert joining Little Feat (he allegedly sang backing vocals on a little Feat US tour), as a replacement for Lowell George, but Robert stayed with Chris Blackwell's Island records as a solo artist.
The Island Years - 1974 to 1985
Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley (1974)
Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley was Robert's first solo album for Island records and was released in 1974. The sleeve was pictured in a subway in the approach to Heathrow Airport, London and Robert is pictured with Josephine Florent who later married David Harper, Robert's long-term manager. The New Orleans sound was evident on this album which featured one Lowell George track, "Sailing Shoes" and one Robert Palmer/Lowell George composition "Blackmail", including two songs by Allen Toussiant.
Robert's loose R & B style quickly gelled with the loose-limbed funk of The Meters. Robert has said that when he showed up for the sessions the New Orleans funk stalwarts (Leo Nocentelli - guitar, Art Neville - keyboards, George Porter - bass, and Zigaboo Modeliste - drums) did not pay him too much attention until he started to sing and one of them then asked "What did you say your name was?". The sessions gelled from thereon in. The rest of the recording for this album was done in New York with Bernard "Pretty" Purdey on drums. This album spawned just one single, "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley/Epidemic", released in November 1974.
Pressure Drop (1975)
During 1975 Robert had moved to New York and in March 1976 released Pressure Drop. This featured yet another Allen Toussaint song "River Boat" and another Lowell George contribition, "Trouble", together with a Pete Gage (of Vinegar Joe) song, "Here With You Tonight" and the Tom Hibbert reggae classic as sung by, amongst countless others, Toots and the Maytells, "Pressure Drop". This album continued the loose R & B/New orleans funk style of Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley and featured the singles "Which Of Us Is The Fool/ Get Outside" and "Gimme An Inch/ Pressure Drop".
Some People Can Do What They Like (1976)
Some People Can Do What They Like was released in October 1976 and featured the singles "Man Smart/Woman Smarter/ Keep In Touch" (charting at number 63 in the US singles chart) and "Some People Can Do What They Like/ One last Look." Robert displayed his skill as a writer of tender ballads, such as on the self penned "Keep In Touch" that was later to become so apparent on Double Fun and continued to use many of the same players as featured on his first two albums. The album sleeve also continued the trend, set by his first two albums, which was to confound "irony bereft" journalists who followed Robert's career. Robert did a 4 date tour in the UK to promote the album in September 1978, with dates in Oxford and Birmingham, followed by two gigs in London at Hammersmith Odeon.
Double Fun (1977)
Double Fun was released in January 1978 and marked a commercial breakthrough for Robert. It featured the singles "Every Kinda People/ How Much Fun" (US) and "Every Kinda People/ Keep In Touch" (UK), together with "Come Over/ You Overwhelm Me" and "Best Of Both Worlds/ Dub". By 1978, Robert had developed his craft as a writer of ballads, had indicated his love of experimentation in other forms of musical style, such as the reggae drenched "Double Fun" and had signalled his ear for unusual covers such as The Kinks "You Really Got Me".
The album charted at number 45 in the US and the Andy Fraser penned song "Every Kinda People" marked Robert's most successful single release to date, charting at number 16 in the US. "You're Gonna Get What's Coming/ Where Can It Go" was also released as a single but failed to chart. The sleeve featured a pleased - looking Robert surveying two discarded bikinis, with a chessy grinned Robert on the back sleeve just in case the humour was misread!
Secrets was released in June 1979, following the success of the lead single, "Bad Case of Lovin' You (Doctor, Doctor)/ Love Can Run Faster" which reached 61 in the UK singles chart and a barnstorming 14 in the US. This album was recorded and mixed at Compass point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas which was conveniently over the road from where Robert subsequently moved. On arriving in Nassau, looking for the studio he ran into Chris Frantz of Talking Heads who lived nearby and invited Robert in for coffee, marking the start of a musical liaison that was to continue onto Clues and to Remain In Light, on which Robert contributed drums.
Secrets saw the introduction of Dony Wynn on drums and Jack Waldman on keyboards together with Pierre Brock (bass), Kenny Mazur (guitar) and Steve Robbins (keyboards) The album was consistent but showed Robert's ear for different styles, veering from the rock of "Bad Case Of Lovin' You" and "Jealous" to the warm sincere balladeering of "Too Good To Be True" and the introspective interpretation of Todd Rundgren's "Can We Still Be Friends".
Secrets yielded the singles, apart from "Bad Case of Lovin' You", of "Jealous/ Woman You're Wonderful" (US) - August 1979, "Jealous/ In Walks Love Again" (UK) - September 1979, "Can We Still Be Friends/ Back In My Arms" (UK) - November 1979, and "Can We Still Be Friends/ Remember To Remember" (US) - December 1979.
Clues proved that despite living far away Robert was tuned into the latest developments in music; Clues featured an early venture into the fusion of electronic music and pop as distinct from the "krautrock" synthesized experimentation of the likes of Kraftwork. This album also marked the unusual collaboration of Robert with Gary Numan who wrote "I Dream Of Wires" and co-wrote, with Robert, "Found You Now". Robert had been including parts of Gary's song "Cars" in his live sets, together with Numan's song "I Disconnect From You" , and Gary Numan, having heard of this, came to meet Robert in Nassau en route to some promotional work in Japan
This album featured essentially the same band as played on Secrets with the addition of Alan Mansfield, Chris Frantz and Andy Fraser. The album did well in Europe though, strangely, the infectious as a common cold "Johnny and Mary" failed to make the top 40 in the UK (it stalled at 44), despite numerous people, including Rod Stewart, naming it as one of their favourite tracks of the time. Singles from Clues were "Johnny And Mary/ Style Kills" (US), "Johnny And Mary/ What's It Take" (UK) - both in August 1980, "Looking For Clues/ Woke Up Laughing" (US) - October 1980, "Looking For Clues/ In Walks Love Again" (UK) - November 1980, and the Lennon/McCartney composition - "Not A Second Time/ Woke Up Laughing".
The lack of commercial success in America with Clues, the singles failed to chart and the album reached only number 59, was indicative of a trend that was to stifle Robert's ability to make the huge breakthrough that his talent and originality deserved; In short he was making music ahead of his time, producing infectious electronic beats at a time when the US market was unprepared for and blinkered to this sort of music.
"Johnny And Mary" was the song to hook me inescapably into Robert's music. I was aged 15 and on a foreign holiday, turning the radio dial searching for something worth listening to when the metronomic beats of "Johnny And Mary" hit me like an electric shock. Within 2 months, having acquired all five albums, I made the, what seemed like a long distant 60 mile journey from Liverpool to Manchester, to see my first of many Robert Palmer live shows. Robert had played 4 dates in London the previous November (1980), including 3 consecutive nights at The Dominion, and in June 1981 he toured Clues in the provinces of Edinburgh, Manchester, Leicester and Birmingham. Part of the live set from Robert's last night at the Dominion on 10 November 1980, was to form the live set which appeared on the next album, Maybe It's Live
Continuing his residency at Compass Point, Robert produced the 1981 Moon Martin album Mystery Ticket which featured Robert's band members Dony Wynn and Jack Waldman. Yet another Compass Point production, Joe Cocker's Sheffield Steel, featured Robert on backing vocals on the track "So Good, So Right".
Maybe It's Live - 1981
Robert had released the single "Some Guys have All The Luck/ Too Good To Be True" in January 1982. This was a "cover". Well a song called "Some Guys Have All The Luck" had been written by J Fortang, Robert had obviously heard the hook and then "wrote" the song himself in a different sytle with different lyrics. Fuelled by a classy video and an appearance on OTT, this release became Robert's biggest UK hit to date, reaching number 16 in the singles chart.
On the back of this success Island released the "stop-gap" album Maybe It's live. "Some Guys Have All the Luck" was the only new song, the other non-live compositions, "Style Kills", "Si Chatouilleux" and "Maybe It's You" having been recorded as part of the Clues album but not making it beyond the acetate cut. In addition Robert had recorded the Pretenders "Kid" for the acetate version of Clues. The only other time this song has appeared in vinyl form is on the Warner Bros Music Show promo album Band In Boston released on Island records in 1979. The live songs on Maybe It's Live were recorded at The Dominion, which Robert said was, acoustically, one of his favourite venues.
In November 1982 Robert had released the answer to Olivia Newton John's "workout"(!) invitation "Let's Get Physical" with his call for restraint and good living, the Juju styled "Pride". The video showed an exercise-averse Robert, preferring a life of champagne drinking and being driven in horse-drawn carriages - well that was the image anyway. The reality was a busy, hard working 1983.
In 1983, Robert collaborated with Rupert Hine, contributing vocals to 4 songs on Rupert's album "The Wildest Wish To Fly", including the single release "Living In Sin". Robert also co-wrote a song with Lynne Goldsmith (aka Will Powers) and Sting. Not the god awful "Kissing With Confidence" but an earlier release called "Adventures In Success". It was mooted at the time for Robert to produce the UK New Wave band, A Flock Of Seagulls, but nothing came of this.
In April 1983 Robert released Pride, an album of awesome originality, innovation and range. It veered from the Juju/Calypso beats of "Pride" to the brooding, yearning, sheer gorgeous ballad "Want You More", the pop of "Deadline" and "It's Not Difficult", the smooth fluid grooves of "Dance For Me" the straight disco-funk of "You Can Have It (Take My Heart)" and the electronic buzz of The System's "You Are In My System"; not to mention the world music foray of "The Silver Gun" sung in Urdu. This song was inspired by a piece written by the african singer Francis Bebe. Robert has also long since been an admirer of the Lebanese singer, Farid El Atrache and Robert was one of the early exponents of world music, despite not attaining the fame/infamy for this later achieved by the likes of Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon. Once again Robert was a man ahead of musical times, no wonder he continued to confound and confuse the critics.
Robert toured throughout England and Europe in May and June 1983. He played his most extensive ever UK tour playing gigs in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, London (2 nights), Brighton, and Southampton. Not all of the shows were well reviewed by the critics, with their usual hang-up about the cut of Robert's suits (designed for the tour by Anthony Price), but attendances were good and the crowds were enthusiastic, at least for the 6 gigs I saw.
The album included the singles, "Pride", "You are In My System/Deadline" - March 1983 and "You Can Have It (Take My Heart)/The Silver Gun"- June 1983. On 23 July 1983, Robert returned to the UK to support Duran Duran at Aston Villa football ground for a fund-raising show for the charity Mencap.
Robert appeared again on The Tube in the summer of 1983, on the programmes African Special and was interviewed for the piece in paris by Lynne Goldsmith. Six songs from one of Robert's German shows was shown on tv around the same time.
In 1984, the Robert Palmer assisted John Martyn album Sapphire was released. Robert stepped in to help complete the project when John ran into difficulties, and contributed backing vocals to "Fishermans Dream" There was a just synergy in this collaboration, both artists being amongst the best singer/songwriters of the 70s and 80s but failing to achieve the commercial success of less talented individuals. This album is worth checking out, not only for the combined warmth of John and Robert's vocal collaboration.
In 1984, Robert also appeared on The Tube, singing and recording "Go To Zero", at home demonstrating the early recording process of "Want You More" and being interviewed by Leslie Ash, and adding backing vocals to John Martyn's in studio (Compass Point) performance of "Fishermans Dream"
Robert contributed the song "All Shook Up" to the soundtrack of the film "The Explorers" around this time.
In early 1985, press attention on Robert intensified. Not on the critics part through a sudden realisation of what they had been missing, but because of Robert's "supergroup" collaboration with John Taylor and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran and Chic drummer Tony Thompson.
The Power Station (1984)
This project had originally started when Robert was invited to contribute lyrics to some music John Taylor of Duran Duran sent him. This yielded "Murderess". Soon after, "Get It On (Bang a Gong)" was recorded and before long the recording sessions blossomed into an album worth of material. The video released including in-studio footage shows what a loose fun time all concerned with the project had. There was a happy symbiosis about the whole project with the Taylors injecting some overdue press interest in Robert and Robert lending the Taylors some musical credibility.
Robert has stated that he never intended to tour with the band and when John Taylor phoned to say "guess what we're going on tour", Robert said, "are you"?. Subsequently, the album reached number 12 in the UK and number 6 in the US and The Power station, without Robert and featuring Michael Des Barres on vocals, played the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid and played other US dates. It was clear how much Robert had contributed to the Power Station sound when his album Riptide, which was recorded primarily before the Power Station album, was released. It was kind of ironic to see Robert's high press profile during 1985 for music that was good, but not as good as much of his previous solo stuff that had elicted at times cool or indifferent journalistic interest.
Prior to this, Robert had acted as Executive Producer on the Comsat Angels 1986 release album, Chasing Shadows, contributing ghostly backing vocals to the song "You'll Never Know". This marked Robert's first collaboration with Comsat Angels vocalist and guitarist Steven Fellows. Steven Fellows was later to co-write 3 songs which appeared on Don't Explain. Steven now manages a great new band from Southport England called Gomez who are heavily influenced by a lot of the same sounds that influenced Robert's early career, The Meters, Little Feat & Dr John.
The lead single for Riptide was "Discipline Of Love/ Dance For Me" Surprisingly, this failed to chart at all in the UK but charted at number 82 in the US. Robert played the Terry Wogan show in promotion for the single and the following month, in November 1985 he released the album Riptide. Initially this reached only number 69 in the UK charts.
This was followed by the release of the next single, the Gus Khan/ Walter Donaldson track "Riptide/ Back In My Arms". Robert played an impromptu set on The Tube, playing "Riptide", "Trick Bag" and "No Not Much". It seemed the usual case of Robert releasing a hybrid, innovative album that failed to ignite the critics praise or the level of sales to achieve chart success. The limited success of these two singles shows that Robert's subsequent success was not attributable to his involvement with the Power Station. Rather, it was more a case that some of the profile that the Power Station project created just gave people a bit of a nudge into realising what had been under their nose for so long, that Robert was one of the most original and innovative performers around at the time.
A groundswell of interest began to build in the US upon the release of "Addicted To Love/ Let's Fall In Love Tonight" in the US, in February 1986. This marked Robert's first number 1, becoming what Robert described as "The National Anthem" for a week in the US. Originally the track had been recorded with Chakka Khan on vocals but Chakka's record company failed to agree to it's release so it was remixed. "Addicted To Love/ Remember To Remember" reached number 5 in the UK single charts. Sales of the single were boosted by the interest in the Terence Donavon directed video. Robert, for once was in tune with and not ahead of the times and hit the MTV nail squarely on the head with this video.
It provoked some accusations of sexism from some quarters who demonstrated a familiar ability to miss irony and humour in Robert's work. It marked Robert's first worldwide million selling single. Boosted by the massive success of "Addicted To Love", Riptide hit number 8 in the US album charts and hit number 5 in the UK charts.
Robert won Best Male Video category in September 1986 at the annual MTV Video Music Awards, at which he also performed. Later, Robert also won Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male Category at the 29th annual Grammy awards.
Robert followed this success with the US release of "Hyperactive/ Woke Up Laughing in May 1986 and in the UK he released "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On/ Woke Up Laughing" in the UK in June 1986 (August 1986 in the US). This had originally been released by a teenage female singer called Cherelle with a fairly unsubtle vocal. Robert, seeing the irony in the situation, had decided it would sound more interesting as a vocal sung by an older man and it yielded a number 2 hit in the US and a number 9 hit in the UK. "Discipline Of Love/Dance For Me" was re-released as a single in October 1986 in the UK but failed to chart.
In 1986 Robert also contributed his version of the JW John song, "My Baby's In Love With Another Guy" and the self-penned composition "Let Yourself In For It" to the soundtrack of the Paul Newman/Tom Cruise movie, "The Colour Of Money"
In March 1988 Robert released the single "Sweet Lies/ Want You More". This song was featured on the soundtrack of the movie of the same name featuring Treat Williams and Joanne Pacula and reached number 94 in the US single charts. The soundtrack album also featured the Robert Palmer/ Dony Wynn/ Frank Blair composition "Monogamy" ( soon to be included on Robert's new release for The Metro Blue label entitled Woke Up Laughing) together with "Peters Theme" (T Jones, R Palmer, D Wynn, F Blair) and "Rue Galande" (T Jones, R Palmer, D Wynn, F Blair), together with "Woke Up Laughing"
In 1986, Robert had also contributed guitar playing to Bobby Womak's album, The last Soul Man.
In September 1987, Robert had moved from Nassau because of the increasing crime levels in The Bahamas and moved to Lugano Switzerland, near the Italian border. In April 1988, EMI Manhattan Records confirmed Robert as their latest signing. Robert's career with the artistically and musically sympathetic Island records had finished though Island did later release Addictions 1 and Addictions 2 which comprised an insightful and fascinating resume of Robert's time with the label.
The EMI Years 1985 to 1997
Heavy Nova (1987)
The single "Simply Irresistible/ Nova" was released in June 1988 and reached number 44 in the UK and number 2 in the US. In June 1988 the album Heavy Nova was also released. This album had been recorded at Compass Point studios in Nassau and at Logic Studios in Milan. On 15 September 1988, Robert guested on "Late Night With David Letterman" and the following November, Heavy Nova was confirmed as a platinum selling album. Sales of the album were particularly high in Australia, going triple platinum, despite the fact Robert had never toured there. He rectified this by touring in Australia to promote the album.
Robert released the single "She Makes My Day/ Disturbing Behaviour" in the UK and achieved his second highest UK singles chart placing, hitting number 6. In the US, Robert released his cover of The Gap Bands "Early In The Morning" which reached number 19 in the US singles chart.
Heavy Nova included the stunning bossa nova song "Between Us". Robert is a long term admirer of the singing of Brazilian singer, Joao Gilberto. Robert displayed the same warm vocal enunciation as the Brazilian master in this beautiful song. The strings were arranged by Claire Fischer. Joao Gilberto, on subsequently hearing "Between Us", used Claire for some of his own string arrangements. Two fans so identified with the intimate romance of the lyric that they printed it in full on their wedding card when they got married. Another fan was surprised when listening to Heavy Nova, Robert , visiting his manager's apartment, heard the album being played, knocked on the door and announced that he had written it!
In May 1989, Robert released "Change His Ways/ More Than Ever" in the UK. Despite a wonderful animated video by Massimo Matteolli, laying to rest once and for all the girls backing band concept, this reached just number 28 in the UK chart. In the US in June 1989, Robert released "Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming", originally performed by Jermaine Jackson, with BJ Nelson on backing vocals. In 1989, BJ Nelson's self-titled and Robert Palmer produced album was released. Robert shared vocals with BJ on the Connie Francis classic "Shoot The Moon" and played all instruments on "Stones In My Passway". The album also featured Robert's long-term drummer Dony "Porchmaster" Wynn on drums.
A further single was released in the UK, The Peggy Lee standard, "It Could happen To You/ Change His ways". Robert must have heard this subliminally in his younger days. He thought he had "written" it and when he played it to his mum, she pointed out that it had been written many years before and dug out her old Peggy Lee version! The album was promoted further with the release of a video collection, Super Nova, with commentary between the songs by Robert himself.
Addiction Volume 1
On 2 December 1989, Island records, released Addictions Volume 1. It was fitting that Island should go beyond the usual money spinning but sterile greatest hits formula to review the career of one of the more interesting artists to have appeared on its wide-ranging label. The compilation featured an unusual choice of selections, including the non-singles "Woke Up Laughing" (restyled Mbiru style), "What's It Take" and "Style Kills" together with new versions of old favourites such as "Bad case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)". This compilation rocketed to number 7 in the UK chart but made just number 79 in the US. Robert's career on opposite sides of the Atlantic has often seemed like a see-saw. When one is up the other is down.
For example, the electronic experimentation of the Clues period, fascinated European audiences but left the US a bit cold whereas the more obvious R & B /rock periods lit the torch of US listeners whilst not doing so well in European markets. It remained part of the enduring dilemma and fascination of Robert's music that his creative, innovative, genre hopping style perplexed critics and sometimes audiences too such a degree that his career was never as high profile as it might and should have been. Instead, critics and journalists "hung their hat" on the cut of his suit and in Rolling Stones 1989 awards Robert won the award for Best Dressed Rock Artist. One could not help feel that there were more suitable categories for Robert to have won awards in! Addictions Volume 1 was a fine example of Robert's individual and non formulaic approach to music.
In April 1990, the soundtrack of the movie "Pretty Woman" was released showcasing a strong selection of songs including Robert's "Life In Detail"
Robert shared a common manager with UB40, David Harper. Robert had appeared with UB40 at their show at Birmingham City Football Ground, both as support and performing with UB40 on "I'll be Your Baby Tonight" and the Randy Travis gem, "On The Other Hand". This latter song was recorded by Robert and UB40 but has never been released. "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" was released though on 17 November 1990 in the UK and reached number 6 in the charts. On the back of the singles success the album, Don't Explain reached number 9 in the UK chart but only number 88 in the US. The title track was a cover of the Holiday/Herzog composition, and it was a brave attempt to cover a song that Billie Holiday had made so her own. It had long been one of Robert's favourite songs though, particularly those versions recorded and performed by Billie during the 1930's as opposed to those versions later in her career when her voice began to show the effects of a hard lived and hard done by life.
The album itself was an even more dizzying incorporation of different musical styles than usual from Robert. All but two of the Palmer compositions shared co-writing credits, highlights being the ironic lyrical twist at the end of "Housework" the wistful quirkiness of the Vearncombe (aka Black) assisted "Not A Word"and the yearning lushness of "Aeroplane" which Robert co-wrote with Mary Ambrose. I some time later spoke with Mose Allsion during one of his regular residencies in Dean Street, and he said how impressed he was by Robert's cover of his song "Top 40" Allison also has made something of a standard of the Rogers & Hammerstein song "People Will Say We're In Love". The version Robert performs does not include all the verses of the original. Robert had for many years had aspirations to record torch songs and Don't Explain showed that he was ready to do so.
As well as the torch songs though, both covers and originals, Don't Explain included the hard rock of "You're Amazing", released as a single in the US in November 1990 reaching number 28, together with the whirlwind of the hard-edged opening tracks "Your Mother Should Have Told You", "Light Years" and "You Can't Get Enough Of A Good Thing". Though he had nurtured his ambitions to record torch songs, Robert had also enjoyed the opportunity of singing hard-rock numbers in his live sets and sampled such songs as "Eat The Rich" together with snatches of Husker Du's "New Day Rising".
The opening songs on the album were followed by a cover of the Otis Redding song "Dreams To Remember" which had been performed live by Robert in Birmingham on the UB40 support date.
For once Robert caught the mood on both sides of the Atlantic with his cover of the 2 Marvin Gaye songs "Mercy Mercy Me/ I Want You" which featured a new b-side "Oh Yeah". Robert injured his back recording this song and it is easy to hear why when you hear how deep inside he goes in search of vocal expression. The uncharacteristically plain video failed to stop this release being a top 20 hit both in the UK and US.
Robert guested on "The Arsenio Hall Show" on 11 March 1991 and commenced a major UK tour in May. The gig at the Town & Country Club in London was broadcast by Radio 1 and features on the Italian released bootleg CD, Feel The Heat.
"Happiness" was released as a single in April 1991 but failed to chart despite the novelty of the non album track, "All Shook Up" as a b-side. "Dreams To Remember/ Mess Around" was the next single release in June 91, reaching number 68 in the UK. At the end of the UK tour, Robert and his band took a break in Lake Tahoe before opening the US tour at Caeser's Palace, Lake Tahoe, NV on 12 July 1991.
Addictions Volume 2
On 14 March 1992, Robert released a remixed version of "Every Kinda People" which made number 43 in the UK charts. This was a complete remix, with an infectious acoustic guitar refrain and preceeded the release of Addictions Volume 2 on Island in April 1992, together with the video compilation "Addictions The Videos" . Once again the album was a novel look at Robert's career with a whole myriad of remixes of early songs together with other non-single releases such as "The Silver Gun", and others, and a driving remake of "Remember To Remember". The whole project, like Addictions Volume 1, from the remixes, to the liner notes, to the interesting sleeves was thoughtful and made one wonder if EMI were giving Robert's career the support and care that Island had. The lack of support for the next 2 albums was to suggest they were not.
In August 1992, the Brent Bourgeois album A Matter Of Feel was released featuring "I'm Down With You" co-written by Brent, Robert Palmer, Alan Mansfield and Sharon O'Neill. Robert also sang backing vocals on this track. It is worth looking up for this track and the stunning songs "Staggered" and "Alcohol" the latter, having a Palmer-"Housework" type lyrical twist, when what sounds like a mournful love song suddenly turns into a call to the bottle. Robert had admired the work of Brent since hearing the Bourgeois Tagg song, "I Don't Mind At All", perhaps he recognised a lyrical style containing subtlety and humour much like his own, and it was yet another fitting collaboration.
On 7 October 1992, Robert appeared on The Des O'Connor show, performing "Witchcraft". This was released as a single in the UK, with the b-side "Chance" and charted at number 50. On 19 October 1992, Robert set sail from Southampton to New York, on the QE2, singing for his supper on board each night in classic lounge-lizard style. On 28 October 1992, he appeared on "The Tonight Show" and also released the album Ridin High in October 1992. Disappointingly, this reached number 32 in the UK charts and failed to chart in the US. On this album, of primarily 40's and 50's torch songs covers, Robert's own songwriting, such as on "Aeroplane" and the reworked "Want You More" nestled unobtrusively with big band and a bygone era's classics.
Robert had been working towards this project for a number of years and the album represented an impressive collection of songs, including the hilarious duet with Carnie Wilson, "Baby It's Cold Outside" in which Robert played the role of the wolf and Carnie the role of the mouse. In his usual quirky way, Robert concluded the album with the bluesy "Hard Head", not the track from "Some People Can Do What They Like" but a hard hitting, hard headed blues work out featuring Jonnie Winter. This closed a remarkable collection of songs, whose lack of success was not a reflection on the strength of the set, but more on lack of promotion and a lack of open-mindedness of an audience fed on the catchy but obvious rock of "Addicted To Love"
Robert played a 2 night residency, 17 and 18 November at The Royal Albert Hall in London. The posters advertising these shows featuring mention of a 40 piece orchestra, alongside a tuxedo clad Robert, made it obvious, well at least to me, that this was to primarily a showcase for the bold and wonderful Ridin High. Still on both nights it was obvious from the calls for the hits that many of the audience had turned up to hear "Addicted To Love" and "Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor,Doctor)"and were unready for the lush arrangements of the Theo Macero led orchestra. I had a ball but once again Robert was a few steps ahead of his audience and critics alike. The second of the 2 nights was shown on BBC1 on 23 December 1992, which suddenly made sense of why Robert had sung, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" at the end of November! Robert also appeared on BBC on the Children In Need telethon on 20 December 1992 and then took the Ridin High tour onto Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, San Fransisco, Los Angeles.
Robert had performed at a Marvin Gaye tribute in France on 24 January 1993, and on 9 July 1994 he released "Girl U Want" which reached number 57 in the UK. This was disappointing as it was a strong song, incredible video, and had the catchy b-side "No Fuss"
This was followed by the release of "Know By Now" , the second of the CD singles featuring "In The Stars", another new song. The single charted at 25 in the UK in August 1994. Perplexingly, it failed to chart in the US.This was followed up in September 1994 by the most criminally under-promoted great album in rock history, Honey. This album seemed to have it all, a consistent and strong set of songs, razor sharp production, tight playing from the band, beautiful graphics on the CD and liner notes and three amazing videos. It was a hugely impressive collection of songs and I thought "You Blow Me Away" was going to be an absolute smash hit followed by the heady romanticism and beautiful poetry of "Honeymoon". Wrong on both counts, "You Blow Me Away was only a moderate hit and "Honeymoon" was never released as a single.
The album enjoyed moderate success in the UK reaching number 25, on the heels of "Know By Now" reaching the same position in the singles chart. Robert made a flurry of tv appearances, appearing on "The Michael Ball Show", "Regis and Kathy Lee" show, "The Tonight Show" and Chris Evans "Don't Forget Your Toothbrush". The stage seemed set for a monster hit, but then in the record shops, the album was hidden away from the main displays and failed to sell in significant numbers; It failed to chart at all in the US. The whole thing perplexes and confounds me to this day. I remember thinking at the time, that Gary Barlow would have given all his George Michael records to cover "Love Takes Time" and release it as a worldwide hit for Take That. Robert's songwriting had reached a nadir of consistency and EMI seemed to have developed a bad case of narcolepsy.
The Post - EMI Years
The Very Best Of Robert Palmer
In October 1995, the single "Respect Yourself /You Blow Me Away" was released ahead of the EMI compilation The Very Best Of Robert Palmer. This was a standard pre-Christmas greatest hits compilation lacking any of the contribution or invention that Robert had added to the Island compilations. Nevertheless it proved the depth of Robert's fan base, and also what a strong back-catalogue he had built, when it charted at number 4 in it's week of release in the UK. A similarly titled compilation was released later by Guardian Records, including the reworked "Addicted To Love" which had been included in the movie soundtrack of the same name.
At the end of 1996, the Power Station released their second album, Living In Fear with "She Can Rock It" released as the lead single. The recording of the album was troubled with John Taylor suffering from personal problems and Bernard Edwards tragically passing away with pneumonia. The album was released to muted press interest, and though the band toured in autumn of 1996 in Europe and the US, this tour was far from a great success and attendance levels and tapes from the tour indicate it was ill-advised. The band also played a live 25 minute set for VH1. Neither the single nor the album charted.
On 16 August 1997, Robert appeared on a bill featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Mary J Blige, Toni Braxton, Chaka Khan, K.D. Lang, Seal, Steve Winwood and Rod Stewart for the "Songs & Vision" concert at Wembley Stadium. It was strange to see Robert sharing a stage at one point with Rod Stewart as I had long thought that Rod Stewart "borrowed" music from Robert, particularly around the release of the album Camouflage.
Woke Up Laughing
1998 saw the release of Woke Up Laughing, a compilation of some of Robert's more ethnic pieces over the years. This is reviewed on my articles and reviews page. The full gamut on this collection is covered in the extensive liner notes compiled by Robert and Gerald Segilman of Metro Blue, who is Executive Producer. The concept was originally suggested by Gerald Segilman, who had mentioned the idea of Robert doing an album of new material which dipped into the "well of world music" that Robert had done over the years. The liner notes offer a fascinating insight into the myriad of influences and musical impulses that have driven Robert's seemingly voracious embrace of world music and the CD has the additional benefit of some reworkings and remixings of songs. It covers the period 1977 to 1997 and features photography by Dony Wynn.
Rhythm & Blues
1998 also saw the release of a CD of new material, Rhythm & Blues. This was released in 1998 only in Japan on the back Robert's cover of the Beatles song "The Long & Winding Road" being used for the advertising campaign for Subaru cars. The CD was released in early 1999 in Europe on Eagle Records and is released on 20 July 1999 in the US on Rhino Records. There are some variations on the tracklisting between the 3 releases, with only the Japanese release featuring "The Long & Winding Road" and only the Euro release featuring "Tennis"
A world tour is being planned from August 1999 to February 2000.
Robert has been working with motiv8 of fxmusicon remixes of both "Johnny & Mary" and "Addicted To Love". A video for the reworked "Addicted To Love" was filmed in the Mohabe Desert California in December 1998.
Check the news page for the latest developments in the career of this innovative, distinctive, and fascinating singer, songwriter, and interpreter of songs.